This is a developing story. Stay tuned for updates.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory has said he will veto a bill widely condemned as an anti-LGBT discriminatory measure, hours after the state House passed it on Thursday. The bill would allow magistrates and registers of deeds to opt-out of serving LGBT couples seeking civil marriage services and ceremonies.
The bill was passed Wednesday on its second reading 65-45 after nearly two hours of debate. Additional debate was heard on Thursday and passed by 67-43.
The bill now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory, who said Thursday he will veto the measure. In March, McCrory expressed reservations on the bill and said he wouldn’t sign it. who expressed reservations about the bill in March and said he wouldn’t sign it.
“I don’t think you should have an exemption when you took an oath to uphold..the constitution of North Carolina,” McCrory told media at the time.
In a Thursday statement entitled “Governor McCrory defends Constitution,” McCrory said: “I recognize that, for many North Carolinians, including myself, opinions on same-sex marriage come from sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, we are a nation and a state of laws. Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.”
The state Senate easily has enough votes to override McCrory’s veto. The same bill passed in the Senate in February 32-16.
But the House might not be able override the veto. The final House vote on the bill came to 67-43 — not enough votes to override the governor’s decision if all members are voting and present.
Several House Republicans voted against the bill on Wednesday and Thursday, including some members of GOP caucus leadership and Mecklenburg Reps. John Bradford and Charles Jeter.
Advocates with Equality North Carolina praised McCrory’s veto decision.
“We applaud Gov. Pat McCrory’s promise to veto this discriminatory legislation and call on our legislature to follow their own oath to protect all North Carolinians by sustaining that veto,” Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro said in a statement. “Both actions will send a strong message that no public official is exempt from the constitution they themselves have sworn to uphold and that all North Carolinians deserve equal access to state services under the law.”
Bill’s passage condemned by advocates
LGBT advocates in the state condemned the passage of the bill on Thursday.
“At a time when the N.C. General Assembly should be taking up job protections that apply to all North Carolinians, legislative leaders have instead chosen to waste precious time and resources giving a few anti-LGBT North Carolina magistrates a license to discriminate against taxpaying North Carolina families,” Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro said in a release. “We call on Gov. McCrory, who has already opposed the premise of this bill, to veto this discriminatory legislation and send a strong message that no public official is exempt from the constitution they’ve sworn to uphold.”
Equality NC had been asking citizens to contact McCrory and ask him to veto the legislation.
On Wednesday, leaders with the Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality issued a similar condemnation of the bill.
“Senate Bill 2 is discriminatory and clearly rooted in animus toward LGBT people,” Campaign Executive Director Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said in a statement. “It’s time for our legislators to focus on bills that help – not hurt – families across our state.”
On Thursday, the Campaign for Southern Equality also released reaction from one of the attorneys who helped lead the fight ofr legal same-gender marriage in North Carolina.
“It is shameful that this bill has passed our legislature,”Luke Largess of Charlotte-based Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and lead counsel in General Synod of the UCC v. Reisinger, the lawsuit that struck down Amendment One last October, said in a statement. “It is nothing more than state sanctioned discrimination and a naked attempt to make a political statement without much care for how it hurts and demeans others. To be certain, if this bill becomes law, it will invite a new round of court challenges. Ultimately, like Amendment 1, this law will fail.”
The state’s several openly gay mayors also responded to the passage of the bill.
In a joint statement, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, Franklinton Mayor Elic Senter and Webster Mayor Nick Breedlove wrote: “Today, the North Carolina House passed Senate Bill 2, which would allow magistrates, as well as assistant Registers of Deeds, to opt out of their constitutional oaths and refuse to perform marriages based on their own religious beliefs. This is an unconscionable redefinition of public service targeted directly at same-sex couples. It is both unconstitutional and discriminatory, as well as fiscally irresponsible in that it subjects the state to prolonged court challenges that will likely scrap the law. Last month, North Carolina’s four openly gay mayors wrote to Governor McCrory to commend him for stating his opposition to Senate Bill 2. The mayors asked the Governor to veto it if it arrived at his desk. The bill has now passed the House, without a veto-proof majority. The Governor has the opportunity to demonstrate strong leadership in defense of law, good government and fundamental constitutional principles that guarantee equal treatment under the law for all citizens. We need his leadership; we need his veto. We urge all citizens to contact his office to that effect.”
Wednesday committee debate
The bill, Senate Bill 2, was debated for more than an hour in committee early Wednesday morning.
Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union) represented the bill’s sponsor’s during debate, arguing that the legislation provides a necessary “balance” between the religious rights of those opposed to same-gender marriage and those couples seeking marriage licenses and civil ceremonies.
“It is not discrimination,” Arp told the committee. “What it does is actually ensure marriage certificates are issued. It ensures civil ceremonies will be performed.”
Arp later added: “This concept of discrimination is very serious. It’s important that we understand that. But I think in this debate that term has been thrown around too cheaply. This is not discrimination. … This bill as crafted is constitutionally sound and solid, in fact. In fact, it is very well drawn to provide for the constitutionally protected [rights of marriage] while balancing the same constitutionally protected religious beliefs.”
During debate, Arp had compared the proposed process for recusal to the military’s conscientious objector clauses.
Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake), who has served in the U.S. Army Reserves since 1991, said the two are not the same. Conscientious objectors object to all wars in all circumstances. For the two to be the same, Grier said, magistrates and registers of deeds would have to object to all marriages under all circumstances.
“We don’t get to pick and choose which wars to fight,” Martin said, adding that public servants should not have the right to pick and choose which citizens to serve.
Rep. Larry Hall (D-Durham) also opposed the bill, asking if magistrates and registers of deeds would be upholding their oath to “fairly and impartially” serve citizens if they are allowed to object to service for some citizens.
Hall and Martin also questioned when public servants would be required to make their objection known. They said last-minute recusals could result in undue burdens on same-gender couples.
Many of the same arguments heard in committee were made during the full House floor debate, though several Republican members stood up to speak at length on their anti-LGBT religious motivations for the bill.
Rep. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) said magistrates should not be forced to particpate in “something they consider perverted and morally unconscionable.”
He added, “God created and defined marriage as between a man and a woman and no country and no government, no court … I believe has the right to change it or to coerce anyone to disobey God in regard to it.”
Rep. Bert Jones (R-Caswell, Rockingham) also cited his anti-LGBT religious bigotry in his arguments.
“I cannot remain silent as the institution of marriage is subjected to what I believe is a mockery,” Jones said, adding.
Several GOP lawmakers also forwarded an argument that the bill was a “reasonable accommodation.”
Martin, the Wake Democrat who spoke at the earlier committee meeting, disagreed.
“Is an accommodation reasonable if it discriminates against citizens?” Martin asked.
Martin said it was clear where the bill was targeted, and he compared it to literacy tests.
“Like literacy tests, those [purportedly] applied to all races, but we all know who it was aimed at and we all know who this bill is aimed at, too,” Martin said. “Make no mistake, this bill has a discriminatory intent.”
Rep. Garland Pierce (D-Scotland), a Baptist minister, made an argument that attempted to separate state action from religious belief.
“Let God be the ultimate judge,” he said. “I would hope that y’all would not pigeon-hole the God I serve and tell me what he is able to do and not to do. Know one in here knows the mind of God. We don’t know his plans for anybody’s life.”
On Thursday, similar debate was again heard on the floor.
“There’s no question this bill is fundamentally about discrimination against gay marriage,” said Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham).
Martin also debated the bill again, stressing that Wednesday’s debate revealed the true discriminatory intent of the legislation.
The bill received final majority approval with a vote of 67-43.
This is a developing story. Stay tuned for updates.